OTZMA Final Ceremony

On Sunday evening I worked until around 10:00 p.m. Mayors from over 26 countries visited Israel and came together in learning about each other’s countries and coming up with new and creative ideas. The opening ceremony for that was wonderful and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

The next day I continued as a member of the conference and followed the mayor’s to the Jerusalem Municipality where I heard speeches regarding Israel and its education system. I then went to Yad Vashem where the mayor’s had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust. A while back I was having Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house whose dad is a tour guide for Israel. He told me that day he was a personal tour guide for a doctor from India. The doctor came here to do research and decided to spend a few days seeing Jerusalem. My friend’s dad thought it’d be a good idea to bring him to Yad Vashem. When they went the doctor was astounded, he had absolutely no idea that the events of the Holocaust took place. He couldn’t believe he had lived this long and hadn’t known. It’s crazy how some things are SO obvious to some of us because of who we are and where we come from, and to others, they are completely ignorant of it. I am not condoning this doctor, I am sure horrifying events have taken place in the area of India and elsewhere in the world that I have yet to be aware of. It is said that the world is a small place, but I don’t think that saying always necessarily holds true, and here is a perfect example of why.

Anyway, back to the Mayor’s Conference. As we were walking in and out of the rooms of the museum one of the mayor’s asked our tour guide, “Did anyone survive the Holocaust?” After she told him yes, he asked, “Are they still alive? Where are they living?” I think this puts a whole new angle onto the playing field.

After Yad Vashem we sat down to have lunch and I had a nice conversation with some of the mayors. Standing in the background observing, and only conversing with the media, they were quite surprised to find out that I wasn’t Israeli, but had in fact been born and raised in the United States. It was such a great opportunity to have discussions with mayor’s from all over the world, another learning experience for me and furthering my goals of trying to learn and understand in-depthly about earths’ people and their cultures.

One of the mayor’s was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I asked him about the Scranton Yankees and if he frequently attends their games. I leanred that not only does he go to those, but he is a giant Yankees fan and is a frequent-traveller to Yankee stadium as well. He specifically mentioned how he was fortunate to see Clemens play there when he was on the DL before returning to the Majors.

After leaving Yad Vashem we headed to the Knesset. We received a tour of the Government building, and heard Tzipni Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party, and Reuven Rivlin, a speaker of the Knesset and member of the Likud party, speak. They thanked all the mayors for coming and gave a nice general background on Israel, its governments, and its problems. At the end mayors were able to ask questions, and one in fact, I believe, went a little too far in arguing about the Palestinian/Israeli peace process. Fortuantely Israelis are always prepared to defend themselves, and quite unfortunately, used to this.

From the Knesset I headed over to the Judean Youth Hostel for the OTZMA final ceremony. We all gathered together in nice dresses and collared-shirts, and reminisced over the past year. Before dinner we had cocktails, and even an open bar serving wine and beer. After a long work day I have to say a glass of red wine and being with my best friends was the perfect remedy. Soon we headed inside for dinner where we were greeted by friends of people we had met over the course of the year. One woman from Rehovot who had worked with us had even come. I was also happy to be able to see Ariel’s family who over the course of the year has taken me in and helped me more than they may ever know.

After dinner we had a more formalized-reminiscing ceremony. Richard gave a 10-minute (each speech was only allowed two minutes, typical Richard) long, hilarious, mystery story about our time in Ashkelon. Each person spoke about the cities they spent part two in. Amir spoke for us Rehovotians and used the theme of “the roads we took while there” — since Rehovot translates to English as “roads.” For our part 1.5, when I was on Livnot in Tzfat, Vanessa had made an incredible short-film. It really brought us all back to those magical two weeks, and I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed.

Towards the end the head of OTZMA in Israel, Dganit, came up and spoke to us. She covered the year and had a personalized message to each of us. She told me I was “the most beautiful blogger OTZMA has ever had” which was incredibly nice and extremely motivating. We all went up after her speech and received a nice paper congratulating us for completing a year of community service to the country of Israel.

I wasn’t too emotional at the ceremony because I do still have time here. But it really made me realize just how much I have experienced, and it’s quite incredible that through all of this I still haven’t stepped onto American soil. I now have less than two weeks left here in Israel. I know I am in denial of leaving, but I think that’s a good state of mind to be in. There is no sense in wasting my time here getting upset about it, instead I am going to continue to enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer. And that includes dancing oddly with my roommates in our apartment.

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